In Vermont, elected school boards are accountable to oversee the local education system -- assuring quality education for every child, assuring that the district is operated efficiently, and assuring taxpayers receive a good return on their investment. The work they do is done in the context of a statewide education system, built on a vision for student achievement and opportunity for all children in the state.
Over the next nine months, Vermont’s statewide system of education governance will undergo a substantial change. For nearly 100 years, the Vermont Department of Education has been operated under a commissioner of education who reports to a State Board of Education. Between Jan. 1 and April 1, 2013, under the terms of Act 98 recently signed into law by Governor Shumlin, that structure will change to the following:
The Department of Education will become the Agency of Education. The appointed head of that agency will become the Secretary of Education and will be a full member of the governor’s cabinet. The Secretary will be selected by the governor from among nominees provided by the State Board of Education and will work directly for the governor. The Agency of Education will be responsible for implementing the education laws and policies of the State of Vermont.
The State Board of Education will continue as a policy board appointed by the governor, with members serving six-year non-renewable terms. The board will not supervise the Secretary nor oversee operation of the department, but will focus on the establishment of education policy through consideration of proposals from the governor, local boards, and the broader education community.
This change in statewide governance is significant. Our association, early on, expressed serious reservations about the original proposal. Even now, some local boards are concerned about continued shifting of power from local citizens to the governor. The broader education community is concerned about politics driving education practice to the detriment of children.
On the other hand, change affords an opportunity to continue to strengthen an already good system. We can anticipate more cohesive, broadly embraced education policy initiatives. We can anticipate a department that is properly resourced and organized to support these efforts. We look forward to robust public policy discussions where ideas will be properly vetted and refined toward the best action we can take to help our students. We look forward to local boards maintaining strong oversight of education delivery and becoming more fully engaged in the creation of a world-class education system for all of our children.
Vermont’s education system is among the best in the country. We can have pride and confidence in our system and should feel comfortable promoting Vermont as "the education state." It is a great place to raise children. On the other hand, we all know that too many children do not engage successfully in school and end their school careers unprepared for college or career.
Our collective goal must be to engage each child in pursuing learning to become a competent, caring, contributing individual. It is critical over the next nine months that we remember that this is our focus. By coming together, fully committed to strong local ownership of education, strongly supportive of a new role for the state board, and strongly committed to a highly functioning Agency of Education, we can see Vermont’s education system become truly extraordinary.
Stephen Dale is executive director of the Vermont School Boards Association.